To begin to understand Baphomet, we must look at Baphomet in several lights.
To the Satanist, Baphomet is not Satan. Rather, Satan is [a part of] Baphomet.
In modern times, Baphomet is associated with Satan (wrongly in my opinion) because the Church of Satan (the atheistic organization founded by Anton LaVey) used an image of Baphomet from a late 19th century book called The Keys of Black Magic by Sanislas de Guaita and made it their logo.
de Guaita’s Sigil
If you analyze the original illustration, you can see its main difference. It has two names, Lilith and Samael, inside the circle.
Lilith here does not mean the “first wife of Adam” from Jewish folklore. It refers to a demoness found in the Qliphoth, the shell or dark-side of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Samael, too, is a dark angel, the poisoner of god. In a sense these are the “dark feminine” and “dark masculine” archetypes. But Qabalistically, they refer to the forms that become matter and the form that emerges in language, respectively (interpreting Lilith as an emergent entity in Malkuth and Yesod, and associating Samael with Yesod).
The Hebrew around the sigil says Leviathan, a sea-monster of the Old Testament, based off of the older god, Lotan. And the goat’s head, rather than being the face of the devil as some may claim, is the goat of Azazel; Azazel received weak, sick, or otherwise undesirable animals as sacrifice in early Judaism (Leviticus specifically). This gives a formula of the merging of female, male, amphibious reptile and land-dwelling mammal, all together; modern representations of Baphomet based off of the famous drawing by Levi capture this somewhat adequately.
Baphomet did not originate with any of these Qabalistic implementations.
Baphomet originates in history as a name and an entity (but inchoate conceptually) around the same time Dante wrote the Inferno: Friday, 13 October 1307. On this day, King Philip IV ordered the arrest of de Molay and the Knights Templar on accusations of heresy, blasphemy and buggery (along with more mundane, financial and conspiratorial crimes). The Knights Templar were similar to modern day mercenary corporations such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy.
They escorted and protected Europeans on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Between this and their involvement in the crusades, they become massively wealthy. This likely had more to do with their persecution than anything else. Despite modern attempts at historical revisionism, the Knights Templar were a Christian order. In fact, they had their own priests and bishops, and their hierarchy answered directly to and only to the Catholic Pope.
However, in the course of their arrest, it was discovered that their rituals involved something called Baphomet. No one knows the real identity of what or who they referred to as Baphomet.
Some speculations (from least plausible to more likely):
They worshipped Muhammad (literally no evidence supports this)
Baphomet was a cat (this is what Cathars, another heresy, claimed)
Their rituals involved a severed head (documents state that such was found)
The word was used as a cypher to hide their actual object of worship, the Gnostic Goddess of Wisdom, Sophia
Sophia, Celsus Library in Ephesus, Ionia (Greece, now Turkey)
The last of these possibilities seems to be correct (or at least coherent), as the Templars did not follow mainstream Catholicism, but, rather, their own form of (at the time) reconstructed Gnosticism. If this is the case, then Baphomet-Sophia represented the true god of the universe, a union of all apparent dualities; Baphomet-Sophia was in contrast to the worldly god, the Demiurge, who trapped humanity in fleshy prisons and kept everyone in the dark and unable to directly access the divine. The Christian component to this is that a divine agent, who had as much in common with the Persian Mithra (bringer of light) as the Judeo-Grecian Jesus Christ (the anointed saviour), came to earth and tore a hole in the veil that deceives humanity, allowing all to gain illumination. This narrative, in modern times, has also served as the basis for some strains of Luciferianism.
Later on, however, Baphomet as a symbol and an entity evolved. In the early modern era, the symbol of duality turned into an icon of the initiatory process, and then turned back to examining the role of duality for the modern magickian.
I will let the following quotes speak on my behalf, as I could not say it better.
“We recur once more to that terrible number fifteen, symbolized in the Tarot by a monster throned upon an altar, mitred and horned, having a woman’s breasts and the generative organs of a man–a chimera, a malformed sphinx, a synthesis of deformities. Below this figure we read a frank and simple inscription–THE DEVIL. Yes, we confront here that phantom of all terrors, the dragon of the all theogenies, the Ahriman of the Persians, the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Python of the Greeks, the old serpent of the Hebrews, the fantastic monster, the nightmare, the Croquemitaine, the gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, and–worse than all these–the Baphomet of the Templars, the bearded idol of the alchemist, the obscene deity of Mendes, the goat of the Sabbath. The frontispiece to this ‘Ritual’ reproduces the exact figure of the terrible emperor of night, with all his attributes and all his characters.” — Eliphas Levi, Transcendental Magick
“Of all the Magical and Mystical Virtues, of all the Graces of the Soul, of all the Attainments of the Spirit, none has been so misunderstood, even when at all apprehended, as Silence.
It would not be possible to enumerate the common errors: nay, it may be said that to think of it at all is in itself an error; for its nature is Pure Being, that is to say, Nothing, so that it is beyond all intellection or intuition. Thus then the utmost of our Essay can be only a certain Wardenship, as it were a Tyling of the Lodge wherein the Mystery of Silence may be consummated.
For this attitude there is sound traditional authority; for Harpocrates, God of Silence, is called “The Lord of Defense and Protection.
But His nature is by no means that negative and passive silence which the word commonly connotes; for He is the All-Wandering Spirit; the Pure and Perfect Knight-Errant, who answers all Enigmas, and opens the Closed Portal of the King’s Daughter. But Silence in the vulgar sense is not the answer to the Riddle of the Sphinx; it is that which is created by that answer. For Silence is the Equilibrium of Perfection; so that Harpocrates is the omniform, the universal Key to every Mystery soever. The Sphinx is the “Puzzel or Pucelle,” the Feminine Idea to which there is only one complement, always different in form, and always identical in essence. This is the signification of the Gesture of the God; it is shewn more clearly in His adult form as the Fool of the Tarot and as Bacchus Diphues, and without equivocation when He appears as Baphomet.” — Aleister Crowley, “Silence”
“There is a part of Chaos which is of more direct relevance to the magician. This is the spirit of the life energy of our planet. All living beings have some extra quality in them which separates them from inorganic matter. The ancient shamans mainly sought to represent this force by the Horned God. In more modern times this force has reasserted itself in our awareness under the symbol of Baphomet.
Baphomet is the psychic field generated by the totality of living beings on this planet. Since the Shamanic aeon, it has been variously represented as Pan, Pangenitor, Pamphage, All- Begettor, All-Destroyer, as Shiva-Kali — creative phallus and abominable mother and destroyer — as Abraxas — polymorphic god who is both good and evil — as the animal headed Devil of sex and death, as the evil Archon set over this world, as Ishtar or Astaroth — goddess of love and war — as the Anima Mundi or World soul, or simply as “Goddess.” Other representations include the Eagle, or Baron Samedi, or Thanateros, or Cernunnos — the horned god of the Celts.
The appellation “Baphomet” is obscure, but probably arises from the Greek Baph-metis, union with wisdom. Gods with Baphometic names and images reoccur throughout Gnostic teachings. No image can fully represent the totality of what this force is, but it is conventionally shown as an hermaphrodite god-goddess in the form of a horned human that includes various mammalian and reptilian characteristics. It should also resume protozoan, insectivorous, and floral symbolism for it is the animating spirit of everything from a bacterium to a tiger. If we succeed in creating machine consciousness, it will have to include mechanical elements as well. Between its horns a torch is usually positioned, for spirit is most easily visualized as light. The image should also include necrotic elements for it also encompasses death. Life and death are a single phenomenon through which the life force continually reincarnates. A denial of death is also a denial of life. The cellular mechanisms which allow life also make death inevitable, essential, and desirable. All religions which deny death are basically anti-life. Have no fear — you have been, and will be, millions of things; all you will suffer is amnesia. The sexual aspects of the god-goddess Baphomet are always emphasized, for sex creates life, and the sexuality is a measure of the life force or vitality, no matter how it is expressed.
The spirit of the life force is the spirit of the dual ecstasy, procreation and reabsorption, sex and death. Beautiful and terrible God of the hovering hawk, God of the thrusting sapling, God of conjoined lovers, God of the worm-filled carcass, God of the starting hare, God of the wild hunt carousing the forest in mad exhilaration.“ – Peter J. Carroll, Liber Null & Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic
“The indictment (acte d’accusation) published by the court of Rome set forth … “that in all the provinces they had idols, that is to say, heads, some of which had three faces, others but one; sometimes, it was a human skull … That in their assemblies, and especially in their grand chapters, they worshipped the idol as a god, as their saviour, saying that this head could save them, that it bestowed on the order all its wealth, made the trees flower, and the plants of the earth to sprout forth.” — Jules Michelet, History of France, Volume 1; on the historical origin of “Baphomet”, the idol which the Knights Templar were accused of worshipping.
“But what of Baphomet the head? What of the Templar confessions of the polished idol with bright carbuncles for eyes, which shone like the light of heaven?
Some authors suggest that this skull was the actual object of Templar veneration. An underground head cult, possibly worshipping a relic believed to be the head of John the Baptist. Maybe it was the image of the head of Our Lord on the Turin shroud that may have been part of the Templar treasure. Even more fantastic, perhaps the head was that of a woman. There are accounts of a reliquary of Templar origin ‘A great head of gilded silver, most beautiful, and constituting the image of a woman. Inside were two head bones, wrapped in a cloth of white linen, with another red cloth around it.’ Some writers have even suggested that the head was that of Christ himself. The Gnostic husk left behind while only the pure spirit of the Lord ascended to heaven.”
And later in the same book:
“So embedded within 17th century Masonic style organisations we have an increasing number of men who are guarding (and covertly promoting) a genuine hidden wisdom. Moreover this is a wisdom that can be reasonably argued is of some antiquity – namely the thirst to discover unmediated knowledge. Natural philosophy and experimental method is the Promethean approach, stealing the fire from heaven. This is gnostic personal revelation through direct experience. This is the theurgic ritual, with the aim of henosis, the goal of uniting with the divine source of all. Such a process does not require a priesthood to intercede on one’s behalf. Rather it is conducted alone, or in small clandestine groups.
This secret wisdom makes more and more inroads into culture. As indeed does the practice of mystery cult initiation… The Baphomet is out of the bag – the truth seems to be that man is, in fact, an animal. One of many forms of life and not the unique image of God on earth.” — Nikki Wyrd & Julian Vayne, The Book of Baphomet